If banks and credit unions are speaking honestly and openly, they’d admit their image for the past say, 100 years, is not necessarily a terribly human one. I mean, the most instantly recognizable bankers in pop culture today are probably the Monopoly guy and Mr. Drysdale from the 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Neither of these icons evoke a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings from consumers.
Financial institutions have made great strides in the last quarter-century towards better humanizing their brands. But much work remains to be done. Take a look at your own bank or credit union and ask the same question — “is our brand human?”
Here’s a brief litmus test through which you can run your brand to help answer the question:
- Do we look like the people we serve? In other words, are you still sporting the traditional suit and tie look? Are your branches still anchored with traditional mainstays like behemoth teller counters, mahogany desks and rope lines? Now, if these elements match your target audiences, terrific. You might not need to change anything. However, if your physical appearance, both in terms of attire and design, do not match the people you want to serve, your brand probably needs humanizing.
- Do we try to talk to our consumers where they are? If the limit of your communications is still a revolving wire rack brochure stand, your brand is almost certainly in need of humanizing. You must take your brand message and story to consumers where they are. Where they are increasingly is online. How well are you telling your story on social media platforms, via a vibrant two-way website and valuable consumer education related content on your blog? If your answer to these questions is some form of “uhhhhh …,” your brand probably needs humanizing.
- Do we listen more than we talk? Old-school bank and credit union brands rarely did a good job of engaging with consumers. Moving beyond mere order-taker status, financial institutions with humanized brands now invest in solid engagement training. This entails a lot of work, including training staff towards the importance of active listening, aligning consumer needs with select products and services and speaking more about product benefits than features. All this requires us to listen more than we talk. If your mouth is running more than your ears are listening, your brand probably needs humanizing.
The formal, robotic and generally boring brands of bank and credit union past will struggle to maintain relevancy in today’s consumer-driven society. If your brand needs humanizing, acting now can help establish your bank or credit union as an important part of your consumers’ lives.
My oldest daughter and I recently auditioned for The Amazing Race at one of their casting calls. For those of you not into reality TV, The Amazing Race is a show where teams of two compete by racing around the world performing various tasks and challenges. While the audition was a total blast (and hopefully one day we’ll get the opportunity to compete), the show itself reminded me of several branding lessons.
When it comes to building a successful brand at your credit union or bank, remember these Amazing Race principles:
- Think fast—In our tryout we had 90 seconds to tell the producers our story and why we would be perfect for their show. That’s not a ton of time at all. And when it comes to your financial institution’s story, you also don’t have much time to tell it. What is your unique selling/value proposition to consumers? Why should they choose your financial institution over all the others that are out there? You have to be able to answer those questions quickly (try about 30 seconds or less) and uniquely. When the cameras turned on, Elizabeth and I had to give a compelling short story and when consumers turn to you, your financial institution has to give quick answers for how you can help consumers achieve their financial goals.
- Involve a team—The Amazing Race is not like Survivor, where you compete as an individual. Rather teams of two run around the world. When it comes to running your brand, you can’t do it in a silo or a vacuum. It will take a total team approach. We remind our branding clients regularly, that great brands are built by people: by visionary leaders, by engaged employees and by loyal consumers. Your brand will not succeed without everyone working together to make it a success. Elizabeth and I made the audition a team effort rather than the “Mark Show” and you have to make your brand about others and not just marketing.
- Move constantly—When you are running The Amazing Race, you are doing just that: running. Or at least moving pretty fast from location to location via many modes of transportation. And when it comes to your brand, you better make sure it’s in motion as well. Your brand should rarely stay still. As Tom Asaker, author of A Clear Eye For Branding says, “There is no such thing as a branding ‘project.’ Branding is an ongoing process of renewal.” In other words, you should always be working to improve your brand. Rather than sit at home and talk about it, Elizabeth and I had to intentionally move to get to the audition and you have to intentionally move forward with your brand on a daily basis.
In many ways, branding is a race. And to build an amazing brand, think fast, involve a team and move constantly.
Great brands are built by people. In working with our clients, we use a customized brand triangle approach which says “management leads the brand, employees live the brand and consumers love your brand.”
Barry Sliverstein, in his book Breakaway Brands, says “More and more, management plays a crucial role in the success of a brand that breaks away from the pack.”
But what specifically can an executive at a bank or credit union do to actually lead their brand? Here are four ways you can lead your financial institution’s brand.
- Set the tone—It all starts at the top. As a leader in your organization, people are going to follow your example. If your brand is built on service, then how are you serving your employees? They will model what they see from you. For example, if your brand culture is fun then you should ensure the workplace is fun. If your brand culture is putting consumers first then you should put your employees first. You set the tone.
- Identify the gaps—Every credit union and bank has brand gaps. There can be gaps between your brand and your strategy, gaps between your brand and your employees and gaps between your brand and your operations. As a leader you must know exactly where those gaps exists. If you are unsure where those gaps are a great step to take is a marketing audit. You acknowledge (and fix) the gaps.
- Work the plan—Every financial institution should have a brand plan in place. This plan serves as a guide to determine your vision, your targets, your training and other key elements. But it’s not enough just to have a plan in place. You also must have follow-up. Examples of working the brand include training your employees on your brand, ensuring your messaging connects with your audiences and establishing a brand retail look. It’s not enough just to have a plan; as a leader you must work the plan.
- Celebrate the results—One of the keys to a successful brand is maintaining brand momentum. Let’s be honest: from a day-to-day perspective, it’s not always easy for employees to focus on living the brand. One way to ensure they are living your brand culture is to celebrate when they successfully do so. Examples include having a brand day, sharing success stories and always spending some portion of any staff meeting discussing your brand. What isn’t talked about (or celebrated) is often forgotten. You must celebrate brand successes.
Building a great brand requires intentionality. It requires leadership. To lead your brand successfully make sure you are setting the tone, identifying gaps, working your plan and celebrating the results.
Note: The following is an excerpt from 30 Ideas to Build and Live Your Brand. For a free copy of the complete book, click here.
Brands are not just brochures and logos. They are feelings. They connect with consumers on an emotional level. Those emotions are very much tied to and often triggered by our senses – sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.
Think about one of your favorite memories. Is there a certain scent or sound you associate with it? Does that memory pop up when you taste a certain food or see something special like a painting? Those are the same kind of sensory experiences you want consumers to have when they experience your brand.
That’s not always easy in financial services, because we are not selling tangible goods. But there are other ways to tap into those senses. Umpqua Bank allows some of its business partners to display their goods in its branches. In San Francisco, one of its partners puts out chocolates. A credit union in the southern part of the country pays someone to spend 20 hours a week baking at one of its branches so consumers smell baked goods when they conduct their financial business.
Our sense of smell is actually the most sensitive of the five senses, which means scent can have a powerful effect on consumer behavior. The human nose can distinguish more than 10,000 different odors, and studies have shown that 75% of emotions are triggered by smell. Scent is such a big deal in business that companies pay a lot of money for scent marketing. They brand their own scent.
A few years ago when Sony wanted to make women feel more welcome in its stores, it infused a customized scent of vanilla, mandarin, bourbon and other secret ingredients into its stores. Hunkemöller, a Netherlands-based lingerie retailer, increased sales by 20% when it added a chocolate scent to its stores.
What about sound? A colleague has admitted to me that sometimes she finds herself shopping in a local grocery store much longer than she intended because she enjoys the music piped into the store. She doesn’t even realize it until she finds herself singing along and then looks at her watch. Does she spend more money than she intends to? I’m willing to bet she does.
Humans are multi-sensory beings. We need to make sure we are tapping into as many of the five senses as possible to connect with customers and members. You don’t have to invest in your own branded scent or even pay someone to bake cookies at your branch office. Something as simple as brewing coffee or popping popcorn in a central spot of your branch can arouse the senses. The look and feel of a new car in the branch can invoke the sense of touch. The music you pipe in and the volume at which you play it can impact your audience’s behavior.
Just remember to be consistent. You want members and customers to look for these same sensory experiences every time they arrive. That’s how you connect with them on a deeper level.
Note: This article originally ran on the On The Mark Strategies blog August 13, 2015.
When talking about branding, many financial institutions focus primarily on the cultural aspects of consumer interaction. For example, exactly what to communicate to consumers, when to communicate it and with which brand-centric nuance.
While this angle is important, financial institutions must also ensure employees get tasks right. For example, your bank or credit union can have a terrific brand jam-packed with consumer interaction, open-ended questions and discovery probes but if the employee deposits the check to the wrong account, it’s all for nothing.
In other words, your brand requires both culture and task be executed well and consistently in order to thrive.
“While we certainly train our staff to work as brand ambassadors, at the end of the day, if tasks are done incorrectly, the brand suffers” shared Travis Flora, Culture and Values Officer with Commonwealth Credit Union (Frankfort, KY; $1.15 billion assets; 92,000 members). “Often, people think of culture as being separate from task. Culture is seen more as things like smiling, looking people in the eye, using their names, etc. Actually, culture includes tasks that go into providing an extraordinary experience. Our team members recognize the importance of excellence in member service when it comes to living the brand and correctly completing tasks. The two go hand-in-hand.”
I had a recent experience in a Chick-fil-A restaurant that illustrates this point. Chick-fil-A is well-known for their emphasis on customer service (and their famous “my pleasure” response to customer statements). On this particular visit, the young lady working the counter did a terrific job living the brand (warm greeting, friendly smile, using the “my pleasure” brand statement). However, when I got my order, there were several things wrong. My drink was incorrect and they didn’t include a particular dipping sauce I requested. She did a great job living the big-picture brand but struggled with the detail-specific task.
These were relatively minor inconveniences and corrected quickly by the same young lady. However, the example does speak to the greater point – for your financial institution’s brand to succeed, staff must recognize and train to the importance of succeeding living the brand and correctly completing the task to the best of their ability.
Note: This article originally ran on Credit Union Insight
Nothing you can make that can’t be made …
No one you can save that can’t be saved …
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time …
All you need is love …
I must admit up front — All You Need Is Love isn’t of my favorite Beatles tunes. I mostly enjoy their early, youth-euphoric hits right up until about the time of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The last time I heard this particular song, the refrain above really resonated. When you think about it, there is very little in credit union marketing and advertising that hasn’t already been done. Sure, every once in a while somebody will come up with a new idea (Kasasa, anyone?). But it doesn’t take long for the competition to catch up, modify or downright copy and steal fresh ideas.
That’s where the “… nothing you can do buy you can learn how to be you in time” line comes into play. I doubt John Lennon was thinking directly about branding when he penned these lyrics, but it certainly does apply.
That really is the essence of branding. Not trying to copy the competition; rather – discovering who your credit union is and what your credit union is about during a series of deep-dive brand identity exercises. Rate-matching won’t do it. Running a new car promotion every May just because the bank down the street is doing it won’t work. Even coming up with something brand-new (an unlikely event) won’t work because, as noted above, somebody else will eventually copy you.
No – the answer to successful differentiation for credit unions in today’s hyper- competitive financial services marketplace is simply “learn how to be you in time.” Branding is not an overnight thing. When done correctly, the branding journey is a months-long process with dips, speed bumps, u-turns and a few straightaways. And it really is all about you being you. What sets you apart from the competition (and please don’t say service or people — those are simply not strategy differentiation models any longer). What is your credit union good at doing? What is your credit union not good at doing? What demographic sets of the population do you serve well and, just as importantly, which demographic targets are simply not the right match for your credit union and its finite marketing dollars?
Once you establish your authentic brand, it becomes a question of practice and training for your staff to get on-board. I’m pretty sure the Beatles probably rehearsed All You Need Is Love a few times before laying down the studio track. The same principle applies to your brand and staff. Your credit union can’t invest in creating and launching a brand only to let it fall flat on his face due to lack of staff training. Staff training leads to staff buy-in and loyalty. Without a proper introduction to the brand, including all its subtle nuances and unique characteristics, your staff can hardly be expected to live it in front of each other, let alone in front of your members.
Whether it’s a Beatles classic song or even the Bible in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”) the message is the same — it’s pretty hard to come up with something strikingly new in credit union marketing and advertising these days. What is new, what is authentic and what is extremely difficult to duplicate is your own unique brand. Getting there is not an easy journey, but the rewards are worth it. When you own your brand, you own space in which you stand. And no one can take that away from you.